A Crowded Country

Our concern is not with the whole of the British Isles, but only with that part of the two chief islands which comprises the political unit known as “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” This unit contains all three parts of the larger island—England, Wales, and Scotland—which make up Great Britain. It also includes the six counties of Northern Ireland which insisted on remaining part of the United Kingdom when the other twenty-six counties of Ireland became a self-governing dominion, called the Irish Free State, in 1922. Northern Ireland obtained what was equivalent to a state government, with its own legislature, administration, etc., but still continued to send a few members to the British Parliament in London. The rest of Ireland, containing four-fifths of the area and seven-tenths of the population, gained the same dominion status as was enjoyed by Canada, with complete control over its own internal and external affairs. It used this control in 1937 to declare itself a republic and changed its name to Eire. In 1939 it exercised its sovereign right to declare itself neutral, and has remained so. Hence the British and then we ourselves have had to by-pass Eire and use only Northern Ireland as a base.

The total area of the United Kingdom is less than 95,000 square miles. England contains just over 50,000 of them, and is about the size of Alabama or a little larger than New York. Scotland is about as big as Maine, Wales has the area of New Jersey, and Northern Ireland is a bit larger than Connecticut. Lumped together, the four parts are equal to the area of Oregon, or to that of New York and Pennsylvania combined.

Small though the country is to begin with, its area of useful land is still smaller. A quarter of the whole kingdom is classified by statisticians as “rough grazing land,” and the emphasis should be placed on the word “rough.” Half of Scotland, a third of Wales, and a ninth of England is covered with mountains, moorlands, or gloomy valleys, swept with rain and wind or shrouded in mist; picturesque perhaps, but of little use to man or beast:

Yet this small patch of Europe, one-thirtieth the size of the United States carries a population of 47,000,000, which is more than a third the size of our own. It is equal to that of our five most populous states—New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, and California—and of our six least populous states—Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, Delaware, Vermont, and New Hampshire—all eleven put together.

BridgeIn this contrast between small area and large population we have the first outstanding feature of British life. Britain is a crowded country. It has an average density of 500 people to the square mile, but in England, where nearly 40,000,000 out of the 47,000,000 live, the figure rises to 770. The density for the United States is only 15, and that of our five most populous states is about 140. Only three states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey—exceed the average for all Britain; and even the most crowded of them, Rhode Island, falls a little short of the average for England. Thus, the Briton, in at least four cases out of five, does not live in quaint thatched cottages or stately mansions; he is a townsman or a suburbanite. In 1931 two out of every three lived in towns of more than 20,000 people, and four out of ten in centers with at least 100,000 inhabitants. A quarter of the whole Scots population was in Glasgow and its suburbs, and nearly a quarter of the people of England and Wales resided in the vast expanse that is Greater London.